Distinguished Lecturers
Richard Aquila

Richard Aquila

Richard Aquila is a professor emeritus of history at Penn State University and the former director of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Penn State Behrend. He specializes in U.S. social and cultural history, particularly the American West, American Indians, popular culture, and recent America. His most recent book is the award-winning Rock & Roll in Kennedy’s America: A Cultural History of the Early 1960s (2022). Other books include: Let's Rock! How 1950s America Created Elvis and the Rock & Roll Craze (2016); The Sagebrush Trail: Western Movies and Twentieth-Century America (2015); Wanted Dead or Alive: The American West in Popular Culture (1996); Home Front Soldier: The Story of a G.I. and His Italian American Family during World War II (1999); That Old Time Rock and Roll: A Chronicle of An Era, 1954–63 (1989); and The Iroquois Restoration: Iroquois Diplomacy on the Colonial Frontier, 1701–1754 (1983, 1997). Aquila has also written, produced, and hosted numerous documentaries for NPR. His weekly public history series, "Rock & Roll America," was syndicated on NPR and NPR Worldwide. In addition, he has written columns for The Hill, Salon, and USA Today

NEW IN 2022:
Rock & Roll in Kennedy’s America: A Cultural History of  the early 1960s (Johns Hopkins University Press)

OAH Lectures by Richard Aquila

This talk focuses on September 11. It examines how popular music dealt with the tragedy and what that reveals about American politics, society, and culture. In the process, it demonstrates the important connections between popular culture and public memory.

This talk explores the significance of the mythic West in American history and culture. As a case study, it focuses on how the West was portrayed in rock music of the 1950s, 60s, and early 70s. The surprising results reveal the continuing power of the mythic West in contemporary America.

This talk focuses on Donald Trump's rise to the presidency. It suggests that his emergence was no mere political movement. It was a powerful pop culture phenomenon that rolled over anything or anyone in its path. This lecture explores Trump's continuing power and popularity. No ordinary politician, he's America's first “pop culture” president.

This year marks the 55th anniversary of 1968, one of the most tumultuous years in American history. This lecture uses a nontraditional source of history -- rock music -- to explore the assassinations, polarized politics, riots, and demonstrations that occurred throughout the Nightmare Year of 1968.

This talk places early rock & roll in context of 1950s and early 60s America. The historical evidence suggests that rock & roll was not as rebellious as common wisdom has it. Instead, the new sound was in tune with the conservatism of America's cold war culture. Early rock & roll reflected the consensus and conformity of the 1950s and early 60s as much as it did the era's conflict.

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